SYDNEY, July 12 (Reuters) – Australia’s ruling Labor party is set for a narrow victory in upcoming elections, two new opinion polls showed on Monday, as speculation grew that Prime Minister Julia Gillard could call an election as soon as this week.
While the robust economy, in its 17th year of growth, should be a winning ticket for Gillard, voters believe the opposition is the better economic manager, according to the polls.
Gillard has also been seeking to reframe government policy in key areas such as climate and asylum seekers.
Opinion polls published in Fairfax and News Ltd newspapers put Labor ahead of the conservative opposition at 52 percent versus 48 percent. For Reuters Poll Trend [ID:nSYU010167]
“They’re in front and they’ve got a primary vote that can deliver victory,” John Stirton, research director with pollster Nielsen, told local radio. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
TAKE-A-LOOK-Australia’s Greens to sway policy [ID:nSGE667085]
Reuters Poll Trend [ID:nSYU010167] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Gillard, 48, is Australia’s first woman prime minister. She replaced Kevin Rudd on June 24, in a move that has resurrected Labor’s electoral standing and reshaped Australian politics.
Speculation Gillard may be set to call an election grew after Governor-General Quentin Bryce delayed leaving for a trip to Europe by a day until Saturday, sparking talk that Gillard could ask the representative of Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, to dissolve parliament as early as this week.
Gillard declined to comment on the timing when questioned by reporters on a trip to Adelaide, but said in a speech “in the days to come I will be putting forward more detailed arguments about some of the biggest challenges facing our nation.
“I will be explaining the steps I think we need to take and asking for people’s consideration of those steps. I will ask for the Australian people’s trust to move Australia forward,” she said.
Political commentators said Gillard’s words meant she may seek to call an election on Thursday or Friday this week.
But commentators warned that Labor still risked losing an election expected in late August. [ID:nSGE6600MU]
“The coming of Julia Gillard to the Labor Party leadership appears to have stopped the decay in her party’s fortunes,” said The Age newspaper’s national editor Tony Wright.
“She has stopped the Rudd rot, though she hasn’t been able to make any serious inroads into Labor’s loss of the disaffected to the Greens.”
Labor took power in 2007 promising to tackle climate change, but under Rudd failed to implement a carbon trading scheme, a disappointment that saw Green voters desert Rudd.
Labor needs to woo them back to ensure victory over the Liberal-National opposition.
Gillard has acted quickly on key policies, ending a three-month row with mining companies over a new tax that was hurting the government in the polls, and proposing a regional asylum processing centre, possibly in East Timor, to curb boatpeople arrivals. [ID:nAUTAX]
The tax deal has been generally accepted by voters, but her asylum policy has received criticism for being in its infancy.
The cabinet will meet on Tuesday and was expected to discuss a new climate policy, but it is not clear whether Gillard will go as far as announcing a carbon tax as an interim measure before a full blown carbon trading scheme can be created.
She has said a carbon price is inevitable, probably via a market-based scheme, but that any decision on such a scheme would not be until 2012 and not without community consensus.
But voters want quick action on climate change, according to opinion polls and public comments in local media.
Until now the political risk of announcing a carbon price ahead of an election has been the threat of rising power bills. But two new surveys suggest power bills will rise and energy investment will fall because of a lack of a carbon price.
The lack of an emissions trading scheme and price on carbon would cost the Australian economy and consumers an extra A$2 billion by 2020 due to investment in less energy efficient coal-fired power plants, The Climate Institute estimates. (Additional reporting by Ed Davies; Editing by Alex Richardson)